FEMFACTS
16 May 2019

Rod Liddle says rape is becoming dangerously politicized -- but it’s his views that are dangerous.

In his Spectator column, UK writer Rod Liddle takes aims at women’s rights activists who challenge rape culture and support justice for survivors.

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Sian Norris NewsMavens, Europe
Rod Liddle says rape is becoming  dangerously politicized -- but it’s his views that are dangerous. - NewsMavens
Rod Liddle, YouTube

Spectator columnist Rod Liddle has criticized feminist objections to consent forms that give police officers access to rape victims’ mobile phone data, claiming that “Rape has become dangerously politicized.

WHAT’S THE CLAIM

Liddle’s article opens with an anecdote relating to the town of Tisdale, in Canada. Once known as the “Land of Rape and Honey”, in reference to the rapeseed crop that grows with abundance in the area, the town’s slogan has been changed to “Tisdale – Opportunity Grows Here.”

The name change, according to Liddle, is the fault of feminist campaigners “apparently unable to accept that a word can have two meanings.

He moves on to discuss the “derangement” that means rape has “joined the copious list of stuff you must never, ever make jokes about” and that even mentioning the word rape leads to feminists responding with “screeching”.

From here, things take a more serious turn. Liddle writes:

Now we were quickly enjoined to believe something patently untrue -- that all kind of rapes were of equal anguish to the victim, regardless of whether or not additional violence had been employed by the attacker.

This is followed by a potshot at campaigns to reduce victim-blaming:

Following on from this came denunciations of people who said that rape was less likely to occur if women were mindful of what they were wearing, where they were walking (alone) and at what time.

Liddle then claims that police are now:

instructed always to believe a woman when she made an accusation of rape [...] Somehow this transformed itself into an injunction always to prosecute, even when police had direct evidence no rape had occurred.

His list of the problems caused by anti-rape campaigners goes on… Liddle writes that while “committing a crime when drunk is never a mitigating factor [...] now a woman who had too much to drink and consented to sexual intercourse was to be considered a rape victim -- a bizarre case of double standards.

Finally we get to the main point of Liddle’s column -- the consent forms. He mocks legal experts who have pointed out that this is an invasion of privacy and a violation. He argues that a man’s innocence “is seemingly of no import to campaigners” who are:

in effect saying that women must always be believed and there is no real requirement on her behalf to provide evidence to back up her claim.

Liddle finishes by saying society is trapped in:

This berserk narrative in which men are always guilty, regardless of whether or not they are guilty. And as a consequence more and more injustices will be done.

WHAT ARE THE FACTS

The claims Liddle makes are factually incorrect, based on “straw-woman” arguments, or rely on dangerous stereotypes that harm women’s access to justice.

Let’s start at the beginning, with the idea that women campaign against the word “rape” when it’s referring to a bright yellow crop that makes cooking oil. There was an incident where the term “rape yellow” to describe an Aldi brand pot of paint caused a sexual assault survivor to feel upset, leading to a name change. Liddle says that feminists can’t understand that a word has two meanings -- but surely he is the one refusing to recognize the two meanings of “rape”? It can’t be ignored that the dominant meaning is one of sexual violence, and there’s nothing wrong with changing brand names and town slogans to reflect our evolving language.

Then there’s the rape jokes. While they are often challenged, some feminist writers have argued that there are times when rape jokes are useful. Just look at Tina Fey’s The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Fey’s and Amy Poehler’s jokes about Bill Cosby at the Golden Globes. They’ve shown how jokes that mock, undermine and criticise the perpetrators can be funny – the problem is when victims are the butt of the joke in a culture where 1 in 3 women experience gender-based violence.

Liddle claims that not all rapes are as bad as others -- that some rapes cause less anguish to survivors because they don’t involve “additional violence”. This is a common trope used to undermine the seriousness of rape, which is in itself an act of extreme violence.

Leaving aside the fact that the hill you want to die on might not be judging which rapes you count as serious, Liddle gives no evidence for his claim. All rape involves violence, and a dismissal that anguish can only really occur if additional violence takes place shows an astonishing lack of empathy towards women who are having their bodily integrity violated.

Liddle’s not alone in believing some rapes are worse than others. A 2018 survey by the End Violence Against Women Coalition found 33% of people in Britain think it isn’t usually rape if a woman is pressured into having sex but there is no physical violence, and 11% think the more sexual partners a woman has, the less harm she will experience from rape.

Moving on, Liddle argues that it’s “deranged” to say that women shouldn’t be careful about what they wear or where they walk in order to “obviate danger”.

This is a damaging claim in two ways. Firstly, the majority of rape victims know their attacker -- 90% of rapes are committed by known men. If your husband is your rapist, then wearing baggy jeans and walking in daylight will do nothing to “obviate danger”.

Secondly, women’s actions do not cause rape. The actions of a rapist are the only ones that matter – and a woman wearing different clothes or locking her front door behind her by 4pm in winter isn’t going to change the mind of a man who chooses to rape. It’s comforting to think that if women follow a set of rules then rape will stop. But it’s a depressing fact women can’t avoid rape like it’s some kind of natural hazard that she might bump into on a night out. Putting the onus on women to reduce danger is futile and does nothing to stop sexual violence. It does, however, allow rapists to normalize their behavior and make violent men feel better.

Liddle then misrepresents the law on rape and consent. Women don’t get drunk and consent to sex, only for that consensual sex to later be called rape. English law states that if there is “evidence by reason of drink, drugs, sleep, age or mental disability the complainant was unaware of what was occurring and/ or incapable of giving valid consent” then that is rape. This is not the scenario Liddle describes.

Finally we get onto Liddle’s claims that women are automatically believed and men are automatically treated as guilty.

He makes the bizarre statement that police are induced to always prosecute rape -- inaccurate not least because it’s the Crown Prosecution Service that deals with prosecuting crimes. More importantly, prosecutions of rape in England and Wales are at an historic low, suggesting the opposite of Liddle’s claim is true. Only 1.7% of rapes were prosecuted in 2018, with more than 98% of alleged rapists reported to the police not prosecuted.

This is already in a context of a low reporting rate and a conviction rate that remains static at around 6%. Young men especially are less likely to be convicted of rape.

This is hardly the picture Liddle paints of lying women framing innocent men after regretted sex, with poor put-upon police officers forced to prosecute every man hauled up in front of them even if they know that no rape occurred.

What Liddle misses is that the “injustices” done in rape cases are faced not by men, but by the tens of thousands of women across the UK whose rapists will never face questioning, prosecution or conviction. In England and Wales, an estimated 85,000 women are raped every year and a further 400,000 will be sexually assaulted.

So, the prisons are not packed with innocent men serving ten years for a rape that didn’t even cause anguish. Even among those who are convicted, most rapists get less than ten years in prison.

CONCLUSION

Liddle’s statements that feminists campaign against the word “rape”, and that police are forced to prosecute rape even if they know men aren’t guilty represent fake news and disinformation. His claims about rape prosecutions and sentencing are manipulation of facts. The way he portrays some rapes as worse than others, and the belief that women are responsible for preventing rape represent biased reporting on the subject of violence against women.

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